Research Cafe I: Faculty of Engineering and Technology


Research Café I: Light sabers to laser scalpels, relativistic jets, mechanical stimulation of cell migration, organizational justice

We headed out to the James Parsons Building for the first of our 2015-2016 research cafes in our new format of a faculty-based programme of speakers. Attendees were welcomed with a tasty lunch and fascinating talks from three diverse schools within the Faculty of Engineering and Technology.

Our first speaker was Christine Unterhitzenberger, a PhD candidate from Built Environment, who is researching a holistic approach to studying the influence of organizational justice on construction project performance. She gave the audience a bit of background on the impact of organizational justice on construction projects on how this can both influence the deadlines and budgets of buildings themselves and also on the treatment of employees through the duration of the project.

The data from a recent questionnaire has only just been received, and Christine is optimistic that this will translate into valuable improvements that will inform future practice. Christine hopes that this may enable clients to become more aware, transparent, and fair and will thereby enhance cooperation and collaboration on the building sites of the future.

Helen Jermak, PhD candidate from the Astrophysics Research Institute, is researching relativistic jets using the Robotic Liverpool Telescope. She began her talk describing the Liverpool Telescope (LT) and declaring that, ‘Blazars are awesome.’ She then provided an excellent basis for understanding various parts of our galaxy by explaining: supermassive black holes, relativistic jets, magnetic fields and our orientation of the views of the galaxies that we see, ‘straight down the jet’ as it were, to the sources we call blazars.

As what she is researching isn’t tangible in the same way as other disciplines, much of her work is based on collecting data from light from the jet called polarisation. By using a polarimeter such as Ringo2 and Ringo3, Helen can collect data to predict the structure and strength of magnetic fields within the jet, thereby understanding these jets that exist close to the edge of black holes. For more information about LT visit: If you would like to fund LT2, the approximate cost will be £20million.

Our third speaker, Duncan Casey, is a multi-disciplinary researcher and a senior lecturer from Built Environment. He discussed the research and design side of making practical tools with light, in particular, solving biological problems with chemistry, physics and engineering. Duncan explained that with normal biochemistry, you tend to get lots of samples and it’s often difficult to isolate the single cells amongst the millions that you have sampled. Using light, or more specifically, lasers, you are able to mark certain cells and leave others alone.

This has potentially a huge impact on how we might first isolate cells, and Duncan discussed the way that using this method may help to better understand circulating tumour cells. He also believes that research in this area has potential to impact on our health: ways to operate, treat and comprehend pure cells from diseases associated with aging.

Taybia Mohammed, a PhD candidate from the General Engineering Research Institute, was our final speaker.   As part of her PhD, Taybia is investigating whether mechanical stimulation can enhance cell migration. In some cases, mechanical stimulation such as vibration, can impact on wound healing. For some diseases, like diabetes, wounds are slow to heal and an increase in cell movement could potentially speed up this process. For her research, Taybia had two different types of cells, L929 and LL24, that were stimulated via a low frequency, low amplitude vibration for different periods of time over different frequencies.

She discovered that mechanical stimulation can increase wound healing, but only at a certain megahertz and only for a specific period of time before the control group would catch up. For future work, Taybia hopes to repeat the same experiments using a different range of frequencies and also with different types of cells.

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